Meet the Artist: Harriet Fraser

Harriet & Rob Fraser’s The Long View arrives at The North Wall Gallery next month for Oxfordshire Art Weeks. Here, Harriet Fraser writes about spending a year with seven remarkably ordinary lone trees in Cumbria, and how they inspired the artists’ new body of work:

A little over seven years ago, early in 2010, Rob and I walked through snow to visit a single sycamore tree on the limestone back of Whitbarrow Scar in the south of Cumbria. We discovered that we both knew this tree well. In fact, before we had met one another, we’d both climbed it on more than one occasion. Here is a tree that is remarkably ordinary; but when you spend time with it – or in it – this sycamore reveals itself as quite extraordinary.

Trees are like that. They are treasures hiding in plain sight.

Sunset at the Little Asby Hawthorn

You might think it would be easy to find seven trees but it took us five years to come up with our final list of seven species, each tree set in a very different landscape. Each tree needed to hold photographic appeal and had to possess that nameless quality that moved us both, and assured us that we would not tire of returning to it again and again. And indeed, visiting these same seven trees many times has never felt dull. The opposite has happened; so much is revealed through repeated, slow visits and the kind of attention that’s essential when you’re deliberating over a photograph or a poem. The trees have become like old friends, and around them the birds we’ve seen include goldcrests, herons, long-tailed tits, dippers, buzzards, peregrine falcons, fieldfares, starlings, curlew, skylarks and even an osprey; and plants ranging from fully grown elm trees to birdseye primroses, devil’s bit scabious and the tiny carnivorous sundew plants that thrive in boggy areas.

We have spent well over 120 days in the company of these trees, and not only in sunshine. We have sometimes deliberately walked into blizzards, trudged through relentless rain, and sat through nights of sub-zero temperatures. It is in these conditions that something wondrous and magical is often revealed: the Milky Way arching over the valley, the full moon created an ice-bow in the black sky, or the first calls of owls as dawn arrives.

Mist clearing away at the Trout Beck Alder

The exhibition reflects on the seven trees and shares images and words from many of these brief but memorable moments. It also features art pieces installed at the trees using the seven colours of the rainbow. Through these we brought together what we learnt about the trees, the natural and cultural heritage of their local environments, and wider reaching questions about our engagement, as humans, with the world around us.

Among everything we have learnt, perhaps the most poignant lesson is patience. Sit with a tree for long enough and you may find that perspectives change and time takes on a different quality. We hope that this exhibition conveys not just the incredible beauty of seven remarkably ordinary trees and gives a glimpse of Cumbria and the Lake District, but also captures a sense of the energy and essence of a tree that adapts, persists and stands still, while the world spins on.

The exhibition takes place in the gallery from 5 – 26 May, Monday – Friday 10am – 4pm, and Saturdays 12pm – 4pm. Find out more about the artists at their website.

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